Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
I'll have a correction in Tuesday's paper after writing the following on Page C5, in Monday's print editions. Under the "You might have missed" category from Saturday's win at Nebraska, I wrote:
• Fullback Miles Tarver made a big block to help spring Rodrick Williams on his 19-yard touchdown run, which came on fourth-and-1 with the Gophers trailing 24-14.
Yep, I mistakenly have former Gophers basketball player Miles Tarver playing fullback now. Brain cramp by me. It obviously should have been Miles Thomas.
I feel terrible because Thomas has been such an unsung guy anyway. Coach Jerry Kill was raving about that block Sunday and talking about how Thomas keeps getting better and better. Thomas walked on from Butler Community College and has filled the huge void left by Mike Henry's graduation.
Thomas has five receptions for 37 yards, and seemingly all of them have given the Gophers a key first down.
"Our fullback, shoot, some people don’t even know his name, what he’s done," Kill said Sunday.
And a few hours later, I proved it with what I wrote in the paper. Sheesh. My bad. I definitely regret the error.
David Cobb still ranks third in the nation with 25.2 rushes per game, but the Gophers lightened his load in last week’s win over Iowa, giving him 16 carries for 74 yards. And the week before that, Minnesota had a bye.
“I was just telling my running backs coach I feel as good as I did at the start of the season,” said Cobb, who ranks ninth in the nation with 133.9 yards per game.
Cobb made an impact even when he wasn’t carrying the ball against Iowa. Coach Jerry Kill was thrilled with Cobb’s blocking, which helped give Mitch Leidner more time to pass and helped open holes for KJ Maye on the jet sweep. Blocking well will only help raise Cobb’s NFL Draft stock.
“They all know he can run, and if he blocks well, he’ll make a lot of money,” Kill said. “So I think a good back does that, and it is unselfish. But if you want to have all the goals that he has in life, he knows he’s got to be able to block.”
Mark Snyder has spent years covering the Michigan beat for the Detroit Free Press, and he’s been a go-to source for me with any question I’ve had about the Wolverines. Here’s a sample of his outstanding work.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark__Snyder (double underscore)
We traded e-mails this week, preparing for Saturday’s game at the Big House. You can check out the Q & A I did for the Free Press here, and Mark was kind enough to answer my questions, too:
1. Do you think Brady Hoke is ready to start Shane Morris, or will he stick with Devin Gardner?
A: I'm past the point of trying to figure out his decisions, because we don't know enough about the criteria. But I assume he would try to go with Morris because, if not, what was all this for? If he stays with Gardner after a week of making him re-earn his job, that seems like a very public demerit. If he goes with Morris, Gardner knows it's an ongoing competition.
2. Devin Funchess dominated the Gophers last year. Will they see a different player Saturday, and why?
A: He is battling a leg injury that he suffered against Notre Dame and has noticeably been affected since. He said it will be painful all year but he's willing to play through it. (Obviously a potential firs round draft pick, it's worth the effort.) Funchess' greatest limitation last week was Devin Gardner's wayward passes and he still caught four passes in the first half for more than 80 yards. If Gardner or Shane Morris is more accurate, Funchess is a problem for anyone.
3. I see a true freshman starts at left tackle. What’s your general assessment of the offensive line?
A: They've been better than last year but that's not saying much for one of the worst offensive lines in Michigan history. Against equal talent -- Notre Dame and Utah -- they've gotten little push for the running game. The problem is they're all juniors or younger so physically they're still maturing. There may be a change there this week.
4. The Gophers can run, but they have struggled mightily with passing. How do you think that plays to Michigan’s defensive strengths?
A: It should be good on good that way because U-M's run defense has been outstanding the past three weeks. The secondary has been better since the Notre Dame first half debacle, but there was leakage last week as Utah hit a few plays. Michigan's corners -- except Jabrill Peppers -- are still small which makes them vulnerable to size. Playing without their starting safety and corner the past two weeks, both injured, doesn't allow for a good read.
5. How big of a crowd would you expect for Saturday and what will be their mood at kickoff?
A: It may be still over 100,000 but possibly not by much. At least this is an opponent that people have heard of and I assume Berkley Edwards' fan base will fill in the empty seats. Seriously, though, there will be a short fuse with the fans that are there, wanting to see improvement. But whatever the crowd, it'll still be more than 98% of the teams in the country, which is still pretty darn impressive.
Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell will announce his college decision Wednesday morning on ESPN, and according to 247Sports.com, the five finalists are Iowa, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State.
Cretin-Derham Hall coach Mike Scanlan said in an e-mail that Cornell will announce his decision at the high school at 9 a.m. Cornell and Cincinnati St. Xavier linebacker Justin Hilliard will be making their announcements at the same time, and much of the speculation has them choosing Ohio State.
ESPN had Cornell ranked as the nation's No. 1 player in the 2015 class last year and has since lowered him to No. 16. The 6-3, 265-pound Cornell is a consensus four-star recruit. The Gophers were one of the first teams to offer Cornell a scholarship, but their hopes of landing him haven't been high for months.
Former Gophers center Greg Eslinger made Athlon's recently released list of Top 50 college football players of the BCS era. He has some impressive company on a list that spanned from 1998 to 2013.
The rankings start with Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Ndamukong Suh, Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Eslinger, from Bismarck, North Dakota, was a four-year starter for the Gophers and won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman. He was a three-time first-team All-American.
He ranks 34th on this list, behind LaDanian Tomlinson (30th), Robert Griffin III (31st), Reggie Bush (32nd) and Drew Brees (33rd).
34. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota (2002-05)
Not many centers have an Outland Trophy on their mantle at home but Eslinger does. He was a freshman All-American in 2002, a third-team All-American as a sophomore, a first-teamer in '04 and earned consensus All-American honors as a senior. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and earned Big Ten Lineman of the Year honors in ’05. Minnesota never had a losing record during his four-year career.
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